Lionel Messi is lining up a free kick. Minutes into a crunch clash with local rivals Espanyol, the little maestro eyes the net from 25 yards. As he strikes, a wave of anticipation ripples around the Nou Camp. The ball rises over the wall, curving into the top corner. The whole damn stadium erupts.
We’ve scored tickets to see FC Barcelona play at one of Europe’s greatest stadiums, and the world’s best player has only scored a screamer within eight minutes of kick-off. Olé!
My son, Sam (6) is Barca mad, right down to his jammies. On our short trip to Spain, we use the match as a fun intro, then bedazzle our young ones with a taste of a great European city.
01 Marvel at the Magic Fountains
Sure, they’re touristy (‘Ola! Selfie!’ shout the vendors selling selfie sticks here), but the stellar displays of light, colour and aquatic acrobatics at Magic Fountain of Montjuïc, in the Montjuïc neighbourhood, will wow even the most jaded cynic. To find out for yourself, take the metro to Plaça d’Espanya, Barcelona (Thursday to Sunday in summer; Fridays and Saturdays in winter).
More info: Free. bcn.es/fontmagica
02 Get that FC Barcelona feeling
From a museum stuffed with trophies to a megastore bursting with Barcelona goodies (Messi travel mints, anyone?), the FC Barcelona experience isn’t exactly subtle. But seeing a game beats everything. Chants of ‘Barca, Barca, Barca!’ ring out around the stadium. Catalan flags billow. “You get a real close look and you see it in real life when they score,” says Sam. “You’re basically right beside the greatest footballer in the whole world.” We see Neymar’s Ferrari. Dani Alves runs around like the Duracell Bunny. Suarez fights for everything, and at one stage, looks like fighting the goalie (“I hope he doesn’t bite him,” Sam quips). My daughter Rosa (10) has brought a book (“I might suffer from deadly boredom,” she warns). It never comes out of her backpack.
More info: Buy tickets for matches and the Camp Nou Experience (Tour + Museum) at fcbarcelona.com
03 Find Nemo at L’Aquarium
A moving walkway keeps the crowds moving through the 80-metre tunnel in this aquarium’s largest tank, the tropical area offers plenty of kicks for fans in search of Nemo or Dory, and kids aged 8-12 can stay overnight on the first Friday and third Saturday of the month (holidays excluded) for €90 (£80), although you’ll need sleeping bags.
More info: €18 (£16), adults; €13 (£11), ages 5-10; or €60 (£54) for a family of four. acquariumbcn.com
04 buffet at La Boqueria
La Boqueria is the quintessential Barcelona market (get there early to dodge the crowds). We pick our way from stall to stall, buying paper cones of Manchego cheese, skewers of jamón, and end up pigging-out at a gigantic candy stall. It’s a brilliant exercise in bustle — and we return later for tapas at Casa Guinart. A few skillets of patatas bravas with garlic and chilli sauce, a plate of velvety anchovies and more nibbles makes for a fine, good value, supper.
More info: boqueria.info casaguinart.com
05 Eat Churros in Gràcia
One of my bribes for getting the kids to explore hip Gràcia is the promise of fresh churros. We find them at a food truck at Plaça de Lesseps, the man draws the dough, clips off finger-shaped portions, pops them into oil and they sizzles away till golden. Handed to us in a brown paper bag, with a Styrofoam cup of chocolate sauce, they’re wolfed down on a park bench, for all of €4 (£3.50). Be sure to hop off the metro at Fontana, too — the Mercat de la Llibertat is worth a mosey.
06 Gaudí’s gems
“Buildings don’t have to be about straight lines and square windows.” That’s our kids’ verdict on the cartoon-like architecture of Antoni Gaudí. At the Park Güell, we peruse its swirling balconies, fairytale houses and vibrantly tiled gecko (Sam spots that one of its eyes is the base of a bottle). Gaudí’s Palau Güell is another hit.
More info: (€7/£6.25, adults, €4.90/£4.30, kids). parkguell.cat/en; (€12/£10.70, adults, €5/£4.50, 10-17; under-10s go free). palauguell.cat/en
07 Check in: Le Méridien Barcelona
At Le Méridien, our suite comes with a great turndown service (including cookies and chocolate milk), free tickets to the Palau Güell and a selfie stick. The slate-tiled bathroom with a rain shower and his-and-hers closets and location near La Boqueria aren’t bad, either.
More info: Rooms from €199 (£177) a night, and family suites from €499 (£445), plus 10% tax. No supplement for under-12s sharing with adults. lemeridienbarcelona.com
Pól travelled with his wife Lynnea, daughter Rosa (10) and son Sam (6).
Age five and up.
We all loved the Nou Camp “The patatas bravas,” adds Rosa. “I like chips with dips.”
The crowds. Plus, having to walk for ages to find a Saturday-night restaurant after failing to make a reservation. “It felt like my brain was seizing up with boredom,” says Rosa.
Published in the 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller – Family